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Wednesday, 24 August 2011

The Great Gig in the Dry

If he's not advising governments and conservation organisations on what to do to feel closer to the animals they're striving to protect, or writing another knock-out essay on human-animal interaction then the legend that is Jim Nollman can probably be found with a guitar on the deck of a boat, trading chops with a killer whale.

For longer than I've been alive Jim Nollman, David Rothenberg and the rest of the good people at interspecies have been peeling back the babel-like layers of language that have built up between humans and animals over countless years. And as they do they're not only unlocking secrets about how these animals communicate and why but also opening a door for us to realise that the distance between us and wildlife is shorter than popularly supposed.

We have fallen into the habit of being the observer. We seem to have set ourselves apart as a higher mammal that is there to keenly describe the relationships that exist between animal species. Indeed, we seem to think it an imperative. But amongst the sheaves of descriptive text we may have neglected to leave space to understand and make use of the relationship between 'us' as one species and 'them' as another. 

The instruments that people like Jim Nollman use to 'talk' to animals like whales and dolphins are, to a certain extent, just a metaphor for how close we could come if we allowed ourselves to step outside of the confines of what fills the bell jar. Yes, it's true that animals such as the great whales are "gifted with extensions of the senses that we have lost or never attained" and are "living by voices we will never hear" but that doesn't mean that either voice is unintelligible to the other. We just have to adjust our sense of what's understandable. 

Thursday, 11 August 2011

NEWS: Latest in-print publication

Look out for the November/December issue of Orion Magazine where one of my short pieces will be published.

Monday, 8 August 2011

All watched over by machines of loving grace

I’ve been reading about the perturbation effect. And I am perturbed.

The perturbation effect occurs when an intervention to control something creates the opposite, an increase in that which is trying to be controlled. This has come up in the badger culling debate where the original study showed that attempts to contol the badgers meant that the animals became ‘perturbed’ and ranged further away from their home territories, thus increasing contacts with more cows and thus increasing the incidence of bovine tuberculosis. Or, to put it another way, they get afraid of all manner of human-induced crap and run away, fast. But, badger fans, easy on those hammers, because this isn’t about your stripey friends. This is about us.

We all have our limits and we can quickly reach a saturation point that means that we feel we have to escape disturbances and move to a different place. And that place is so often wild and natural. We frequently refer to our brushes with nature, whether it be a countryside walk, a bit of birdwatching or a determined trek into wilderness, as being part of an ‘escape’. An escape from the pressures of everyday life, escape from the idiots at work who ring you only to ask if you’re on the phone, escape from the relentless pile-up of technological barriers put there in the name of progress. We’re perturbed. And this is both wonderful and tragic.

Wonderful because we still recognise its necessity. Incongruously we place ourselves in exposed and wide open spaces to find sanctuary because it’s a place where the modern predators no longer stalk us. They migrated to the cities long ago and we can be left alone to forge links that have become weakend over time.

Tragic because, for the majority, we now treat these experiences as unique and ones that have to be sought after. It takes effort to experience them and needs a concious plugging-in of the wires that connect us to the natural world. But when we do, those connecting wires sing with a thousand messages.

All things considered, there has to be another way. It seems that if we can find a way to experience (or at least feel) our place as one of the planet’s species regardless of our time and place then that’s better than feeling the need to escape when things become too much. Ahead of his time, in 1960 Kenneth Allsop said it best. "In this technologically triumphant age, when the rockets begin to scream up towards the moon but the human mind seems at an even greater distance, anger has a limited use. Love has a wider application, and it is that which needs describing wherever it can be found so that we may all recognise it and learn its use"